STAYING HOME AND physically distancing from others during the COVID-19 pandemic is tough for everyone, but can be more difficult for those with eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
“Coronavirus impacts all of us, but there are added stressors for those with eating disorders,” says Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. “Social distancing and isolation are in direct contradiction to what’s emphasized in recovery.”
People are home all day and surrounded by food.
For those who have binge eating disorder, having an excess of food available could make them more likely to binge. Not only may there be more food than usual at home, but because of stay-at-home orders and self-quarantine guidelines, it’s also much more accessible.
For those who tend to restrict their eating, this may have the opposite effect, making them conserve how much food they eat. The restriction may happen because of news reports or sightings of empty shelves at the supermarket, says Stacy Brooks, a writer in the Minneapolis area who has struggled with restrictive eating for 20 years.
Brooks feels unsafe having more food around the house, even though it’s sometimes necessary due to recommendations on limiting grocery store runs and buying in bulk to ensure availability of food. She also finds herself struggling with the many food labels available to read around the house, which can be tempting to use for calorie restriction. For instance, a person with disordered eating may focus intently on the labels to count calories and strictly limit the amount they eat.
In-person support is difficult or impossible.
For many in active recovery from an eating disorder, connecting with others in person is a common way to receive support, Mysko says.
Additionally, those living in residential treatment facilities can’t receive visits from family or friends due to shelter-in-place restrictions. “Individuals are often unable to get the connection and support that they need and, as a result, return to unhealthy patterns of behavior,” says Houston-based counselor Christine Brannan, who works with clients with addictive behaviors, substance abuse problems and eating disorders.
There are changes to the everyday routine.
Gyms are closed, and that may lead some people to restrict caloric intake because they have less of a chance to work off what they eat, says Kimberly M. Daniels, a clinical psychologist in Hartford, Connecticut, who specializes in eating disorders.
There also are changes to how people approach their food intake. “I have many clients who manage their overeating by packing their lunches and keeping limited food in their offices. Now that they’re home, it’s very hard for them to keep this same structure in place,” Daniels explains.
Images and messages in the media may be triggers for unhealthy eating behaviors.
Images on the news of empty food shelves can cause panic, even in those who don’t have eating disorders, Daniels says.
Articles and videos on how to use each moment of your day at home for maximum productivity can bring out the not-healthy perfectionist side of those with eating disorders, Mysko adds.
Memes on social media about dieting or gaining weight due to staying home all day also can be troubling for those with an eating disorder or in recovery. Additionally, all of the negative news about COVID-19 in the news and on social media can lead some people to feel out of control. They may return to binging, purging or food restriction to help manage that out-of-control feeling, Brannan says.
Staying home with family members can be a trigger.
It could be a family member who has an eating disorder and talks about it frequently and tries to engage others into joining their eating behavior (such as binging). Or it could be a family member who polices the eating or weight of others. Another problem could be a family member who is dieting strictly, and that could lead someone with an eating disorder to begin restricting their own food intake.
Here are eight tips:
1. Accept that it’s harder to manage your eating disorder right now. “It’s OK to be struggling. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it,” Brooks says. This is a time more than ever to emphasize progress over perfection, Brannan advises.
2. Reach out. People with an eating disorder are usually good at isolating themselves, Mysko says. However, at this time, you should find ways to actively reach out to others for support. Aim to speak with a trusted family member, friend, support group or therapist each day, so you feel less alone, Brannan recommends. Conversely, if you know someone with an eating disorder, this is the time to reach out and see if they need additional emotional support.
3. Limit your social media and news feed. If news about the coronavirus is too anxiety-provoking, make plans to check the news just once a day, Brooks advises. Limit the number of media outlets you’re checking. If watching the news is just too much, ask a family member or friend to keep you up-to-date on only what’s necessary, Daniels suggests.
For social media, curate your feed, Mysko says. Unfollow accounts that provoke anxiety or negative feelings. Brooks also finds it helpful to log out of sites like Facebook or Twitter, so she’s less tempted to check them so frequently.
4. Use teletherapy. Many therapists have switched to online sessions, so you can still make contact with a therapist even while staying home. In fact, online therapy is potentially great for those with eating disorders precisely because of the physical distancing, according to Daniels. One of her clients, she says, “felt so much shame about her weight that it was nearly impossible for her to come in for the first time.”
However, not all clients have been able to continue online therapy due to financial concerns or lack of privacy due to others who are around them while in isolation, Daniels adds. Plus, “the insurance companies have been a disaster, so there is a huge amount of confusion about what’s covered and what isn’t,” she says.
5. Take advantage of free online or phone-based resources. If you’re not able to access teletherapy, there are online support groups and even social media feeds that can help manage eating disorder concerns. The National Eating Disorders Association has a series of Facebook Live videos that can help people cope, such as Eating Disorders in Midlife and Beyond and Family Dynamics During Quarantine.
You can also watch these sessions after they’re live. There are registered dietitians on Instagram who are talking viewers through eating-related coping skills, such as how to eat a meal, Brooks says. In Brannan’s area, the Houston Eating Disorders Anonymous group still meets twice a week by phone.
6. Practice good general health. This includes taking a walk, listening to music and practicing something to help keep you centered, such as yoga, meditation or journaling, Brannan recommends. Getting adequate sleep is important as well.
7. Keep a regular waking and sleeping daily routine. “This keeps your body working on a regular schedule,” Daniels says. A regular daily routine can help keep some normalcy to your life and provide structure. It also gives you less time to think about what’s happening in the world or to get distracted. In terms of hunger and a routine, make sure to check in with yourself regularly and eat when you are hungry to maintain your energy level, Daniels advises.
8. Call or text available helplines if you need them.
- The National Eating Disorders Association helpline is open and available at 800-931-2237.
- The Suicide Prevention Helpline can be reached at 800-273-8255.
- The Crisis Textline is available by texting HOME to 741741.
All of these helplines are confidential and free. Many states have crisis and suicide hotline phone numbers as well.
— Source – usnews —